The Hammer of Arminianism

The Hammer of Arminianism

by Anthony Burgess

Demonstrating That God in Converting and Changing a Sinner Works in an Omnipotent, Efficacious, and Irresistible Manner Against the Patrons of Free Will and the Power of Man to Supernatural Things

A new heart also will I give you, and will take away the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. EZEK. 36.26.

It is now time to draw near to a conclusion concerning this full and quintessential text of Holy Scripture. There remain two particulars only to be improved, that were noted in the main division of the text. For as we told you, here was observable the precious mercy promised, described both positively and oppositely. Here was also the efficient cause of this mercy and the fruit thereof. So we told you there was a two-fold modus, or manner observable about this mercy: There was a modus rei and a modus dicti; the manner of God’s working this grace in those whom He converts, and that is by His mighty omnipotent power, efficaciously, insuperably, irresistibly.

Consider with what authority God speaks it: I will take away the heart of stone, I will give a heart of flesh. God will do it, and man’s will shall not hinder. Here is no conditional, suspended operation, as if God would not convert or turn our hearts to Him until we also by our free will began to turn to Him. So that this text is a hammer to beat in pieces all those doctrines of old, and which now of late multiply, concerning free will and the power of man to supernatural things. May not this text satisfy every man? Does it not make every man’s heart by nature a stone, insensible and stupid about holy things? Does not God here appropriate the whole work of conversion to Himself? I will give a heart of flesh, I will take away the stony heart.

Indeed, does He not also declare the manner how He will do this by His sovereign, omnipotent, and irresistible power, so that the heart cannot but bow and yield and give itself up? Whereas now, if the patrons of nature and free will, who are enemies to God’s grace, spoke truth, then God should have said no more but this: “I will give you a heart of flesh if you will; I cannot do it alone unless your free will goes along with it also; I must suspend, or stay my work till I see what you will do.” This is the first manner observable.

Then there is modus dicti, the second manner how God will vouchsafe this, and that is by way of gift; by a free absolute promise: I will do thus, and thus. He does not suppose any previous or antecedent conditions on our part.

I shall at this time pitch only upon the manner how God works this glorious mercy in us, and from thence observe.

Observation ~ Doctrine:

That God in Converting and Changing Our Hearts Works in an Omnipotent, Efficacious, and Irresistible Manner

When God speaks to the soul to believe, to repent, to reform, it cannot, it will not but repent; He makes the unwilling, willing. Even as at the first creation God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. There was no power in the creature to reject God’s omnipotency; so it is when God sees a man wallowing in his blood or dead in his sin (Ezek. 16.6, Eph. 2.1). If He says, "Arise and walk," or "Come forth out of the grave of sin," as He did to Lazarus, presently the soul obeys. This point, both doctrinally and practically, is very necessary. The orthodox handling of it makes much for the excellent praise of grace and the utter overthrow of those dangerous and proud errors that advance free will, giving it either all or part in the work of conversion. This is contrary to the whole scope of the Scripture, which continually debases man, discovering his impotency and unworthiness, but giving all to the power of God. Let us first explain this doctrine and then prove it.

The Doctrine Explained:

  1. Man in the First Work of Conversion is Passive and Does Not Co-operate.

First, therefore, we distinguish between a man in his first conversion and afterwards in the progress of it. In the first moment and instant of conversion, which is the taking away the heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh, we say man is merely a subject passive, receiving the work of God. He does not in any way co-operate; he has no strength or power to join with God. As Augustine said well, these things are wrought in nobis, sine nobis—“in us, yet without us.” God works this spiritual life, this tender heart in us, without our help or strength. Even as when Christ raised up any dead men, He put natural life into them. This was done in them, yet without their help. Life was put into Lazarus, and Lazarus had no helping hand to effect this. I shall prove this in the grounds of the doctrine; I only now explain it. This then is the truth of God, plainly grounded on Scripture, that man in the first instant of conversion has no free will, no power working with God, but is a mere passive subject, receiving the mighty work of God upon his soul. But if you consider man in the progress of sanctification, thus having received this heavenly supernatural life, he is not a mere patient; but being acted and moved by God, he also acts and moves. Then indeed we need grace to quicken and enliven those principles of grace, as before was proved; but we do not need a new life to be infused into us.

  1. Hereby Man’s Will is Not Taken Away.

Secondly, although this is the good truth of God, yet we do not take away the nature of a man and make him a beast (nor a rock, nor a robot), as the adversaries calumniate. "Oh," say they, "this is to turn man into a stock or stone, to deprive him of reason and liberty of will." No, we deny the consequence; for although we say that he is thus passive for the initial working of grace, yet we say he has his understanding, his reason still, he has a will still—only, to discern or will what is good, that he cannot. So then we deny not that a man has understanding, has a natural liberty of his will; he cannot be a man if he does not have these. But yet in respect of that which is holy, his mind is blind, his will is obstinate, and rebellious against it. So that in man here are these three things: to be able to understand, to be able freely to will—this is of mere nature; to have a corrupt understanding and a corrupt will is of defiled nature; to understand and will what is good is of sanctified nature. So then, what is the true state of the question? It is not whether there be an understanding and the natural faculty of free will in a man or not. None denies that; every man has free will in natural and civil actions. The question is about the object of these—whether he has power to understand or will things that are merely spiritual and supernatural; and this the Scripture expressly denies.

  1. When We Say God Works Grace Thus Powerfully and Irresistibly, We Do Not Mean the Heart Does Not Resist at All.

Thirdly, when we say God works grace thus powerfully and irresistibly, the meaning is not as if the heart of a man in conversion did not resist and reject the work of the Spirit in some measure and in some degrees. There is no question but the heart of a man naturally refuses and opposes the Spirit of God. Stephen told the Jews, “They had always resisted the Spirit of God” (Acts 7), and the word of God is said to cast down those strongholds and every high thing that exalts itself against God (2 Cor. 10.5). So that as there is a natural contrariety and active opposition between fire and water, thus there is a constant enmity and active resisting of God’s Spirit by our spirit. For if this combat and conflict remain still in a godly man, how much more in natural men who are altogether carnal? You must therefore distinguish between a prevalent, conquering resisting and a gradual resisting. God in conversion works in such a way that He takes away the prevalent, but not the gradual resisting. Though a man before he is converted is froward and full of cavils and prejudices, is unwilling to be saved, cannot abide the truth, and does what he can to stifle all good motions; yet if he belongs to election, God will at last overmaster his heart and make him willing. His hard heart cannot refuse this converting grace, because the first thing it does is to take away the hardness of heart.


Therefore, it is not every kind of grace that a man may acknowledge as sufficient unless it is a grace that is antecedently efficacious to our will and omnipotently bowing and changing it. Augustine said that the Pelagians used the word "grace" ad frangendam invidiam, to avoid the hatred that their opinion might incur. Similarly, those who advocate for free will will acknowledge grace, and God forbid they should speak against grace. But you must know that in this matter, there has been a horrible abuse by well-meaning men who acknowledge grace but not the kind of grace that is efficacious in itself by its inward power, not dependent on man’s will.

Pelagius of old, when he saw his opinion was universally distasteful, as if he argued against grace, began to use the word and acknowledge it to avoid such odium. He deceived an entire council with his ambiguities and generalities, who then acquitted him. Even Augustine himself, who was a diligent opponent of Pelagius, was almost deceived by him. Therefore, if any who argue for free will also speak of grace and say they are for grace, remember it is not every kind of grace that is sufficient, but such that mightily changes the heart. It is not grace that works with free will but first makes the will free, which was a servant and captive to lust. "Then you are free if the Son makes you free" (John 8:32-36).


Although God omnipotently bows the heart and grace is vorticordis, as Augustine called it, there is still great use for the ministry: of exhortation, of reproof, of commands, of promises and threatenings. Men are apt to cavil and say, “If God works all, why then is the ministry necessary? Why are we exhorted when we have no power? Why does God command when we have no ability?” The ministry and exhortation are necessary because they are the instituted means by which God will work. Just as Christ did not in vain say to Lazarus, "Lazarus, come forth," because it was a practical, powerful word, so it is here. The ministry speaks not in vain; we exhort not in vain because, in and by this, God inflames the heart and quickens it to good. Thus, the commands to turn to God, to love Him above all things, are not in vain because they are not to demonstrate our power but our duty. The creditor may lawfully demand of his prodigal debtor the sum of money he owes, though he is not able to pay. We, being full of self-righteousness, carnal confidence, and earthly adherence, must have these commands pressed upon us all the more earnestly so that we may be ashamed and confounded.


It cannot be denied that this doctrine of God’s sole power and efficacy of grace in conversion has been and may be abused in two ways: either to sluggishness and negligence, with men thinking, “If God takes away the stony heart, why should I care? I may sit down and take my ease”; or to enthusiasm, where some will not pray or attend the ordinances, expecting the Spirit’s immediate working on them instead. These were two reasons, says Chemnitius, why Pelagius, a Briton, otherwise an ingenious and famous man, as well as very innocent in his life, fell into his error. But there is no truth of God that can be preached without carnal hearts abusing it. Paul abundantly testifies to this when he speaks of the corrupt inferences some made from his preaching of grace. The best truths, when corrupted, prove most dangerous, just as when manna was not used according to God’s institution, it degenerated into noisome worms (Exod. 16:20).

Grounds of the Truth of this Doctrine for its Proof:

Let us discover the grounds of this truth:

First, all those places of Scripture which describe the total and universal pollution of man, making him not so much a sinner as even sin itself, plainly argue that God’s converting grace is all in all; that man is a mere patient and cannot actively consent to the least good thing. Thus, Genesis 6:5, "The imagination of the thoughts of a man’s heart are only evil, and that continually." What more can be said? Every imagination or thought that stirs in a man is evil, and only evil, and that continually! How then can this consent or be active to God?

Similarly, Ephesians 2:1, "You hath he quickened that were dead in sins." What does a dead man do to get life again? "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one." (Job 14:4). That is, no man, only God. Our Saviour says, "A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit" (Matt. 7:18), especially Romans 8:5-7, and also 1 Corinthians 2:14, "A natural man perceiveth not the things of God, neither can he" (Geneva trans.); he does not, and he cannot. See what compelling places of Scripture these are. Mark them, because that unsavoury error spreads so much. If these texts are true, all our thoughts and affections are only evil; we are dead in sin, we do not, we cannot so much as perceive the things of God. How then dare anyone think of the power of nature and its ability to what is holy?

Secondly, this is fully proved by the excellent and emphatic metaphors used to declare the work of conversion, which the Spirit of God purposely uses to declare God’s glorious power in us. It is often called a creation, and grace is a new creature: we are said to be created to good works. Now, creatio fit ex nihilo, creation supposes nothing pre-existent, either physically or morally. Was the world, when it was created, in any way co-operant to its creation? Neither is it so here. Remember then, "It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves" (Psalm 100:3). If we did not make ourselves men, shall we make ourselves new creatures, better than men? It is also expressed by the metaphor of a new birth: "He hath begotten us by his word." A godly man is said to be born of God. These are full expressions to show that we are not born by our free will or consent, but by God’s sole power, as in John 1:13.

Lastly, it is compared to the resurrection: "You that were dead hath he quickened" (Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13). Now, was there ever any man that could raise himself out of the grave and give life to himself? Yes, in Ephesians 1, it is compared to that glorious power of God in raising up Christ; the very same power is said to work in those who believe. How can any man answer these comparisons the Scripture uses? For although metaphors should not be stretched beyond the intent of the one using them, the Holy Ghost uses such expressions to make us attribute all to God, debasing ourselves, saying, "Not unto us, Lord, not to our free will or our power, but to Thy name be all glory" (Psalm 115:1).

Thirdly, all those places prove this which take all ability of good from man and attribute it wholly to God. Our Saviour likens every man outside of Him to a branch separated from the vine (John 15:4-5): the branch out of the vine can bring forth no fruit; thus every man out of Christ. Hence, our Saviour concludes, "Without me ye can do nothing." He does not say, "You cannot do any great thing," but nothing. Again, in 2 Corinthians 3:5, the Apostle says, "We are not sufficient of ourselves to think one thought," in reference to the good either of others or of ourselves. Thus, you see how man is made utterly impotent.

Then see those places that positively attribute all to God: "It is God that works in us both to will and to do" (Phil. 2:13). You see all is given to Him. Again, "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" (1 Cor. 4:7). Above all, how plain is this in Romans 9:16: "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." This is a noble place, for who is likely to have it but him that wills or runs? Yet it is not of him, but of Him that shows mercy. If free will or man’s power had any co-partnership in this work, we might as well say, "It is not of him that shows mercy, but of him that wills or runs." This doctrine robs God of all the honour and glory due to Him in the prayers and praises of His people.

How will the patrons of nature’s free will deport themselves in this duty? Must they not, in effect, come to this? "Lord, I pray Thee, mollify and soften my heart, if I will." Again, "Lord, I praise Thee that Thou gavest me a heart to repent when I consented and was willing." And is not all this highly derogatory to God’s glory? This made profound Bradwardine encourage himself to write against Pelagius because he could heartily pray for the grace of God to help him in that work, whereas his adversaries could not do so.

Lastly, if it be that the will and power of man made grace effectual to us, so that God’s grace should not take away our stoniness until we consented, then the greatest glory of a man’s conversion would belong to him. We may suppose God offering grace equally to the same men; they both live in the same family, both under the same ministry. Now, what is the cause why one receives the Word and not the other? Shall we say because he, by his free will, entertained the grace of God and not the other? What derogation would this be to God’s glory? Does not the Apostle say, "Who hath made thee to differ from another?" (1 Cor. 4:7). Why was Peter converted and not Judas? They both enjoyed the same means, they both saw the same wonderful miracles. Shall anyone say because Peter used his free will well and not Judas? This would make Peter no more beholden to Christ than Judas was. A gracious heart knows not how to digest such presumptuous opinions! "God made me to differ from others. By the grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).

So then, keep all these arguments in your mind, they are plain and easy. Though error be never so subtly painted, it will not make you enamoured with it, especially if, to all these places of Scripture, you can add your own experience of God’s wonderful change upon you. Are you not able to say that though ten thousand teachers should come and preach free will, yet your own experience in your conversion will make you not believe it? For you were so far from consenting or agreeing to the work of grace that all your shifts and care were to put off the work of God. How often did you labour to blind your own eyes, to harden your own heart? How unwilling were you to be convinced, how sorry to part with your dear lusts? How often did you put off and defer, saying, “Yet a little more, and still a little more,” that had not God, by His mighty power, opened your heart, made you willing from unwilling, to this very day you would still have been wallowing in your blood! (Ezek. 16:6).


Use of Instruction: Concerning a Three-Fold Duty:

  1. Of Deep Debasement and Humiliation: How vain, weak, and unprofitable we have become! To go from rich to poor, from honourable to debased, is nothing compared to this: from holy and altogether holy to altogether sinful. Oh, why does this not wound you? Is there any room left for pride, carnal jollity, and confidence while in this polluted state?

  2. Of Daily Thankfulness to God: Be thankful to God, who has put forth His great power on you. Oh, call upon your soul, and all within you, to speak for the grace of God.

  3. Encouragement to Pray: Here is encouragement to pray to God for the subduing of any strong corruptions or passions. He who did the greater, taking away the heart of stone at first, can He not do the less?